Have you been gaining weight while breastfeeding when you were expecting to lose weight?
You’re in the right place.
In this post you’ll learn:
- Reasons why you might be gaining weight while breastfeeding,
- What to do to avoid putting on extra pounds, and
- A few strategies to help you lose the unwanted baby weight.
Let’s get started.
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
Why am I putting on weight while breastfeeding?
Weight gain while breastfeeding can happen due to a combination of factors such as:
- the total number of calories you are consuming,
- the actual foods you are consuming,
- your metabolic rate, and
- and your cortisol levels.
When you are postpartum, your body goes through several hormonal changes that can impact your hunger and the way your body processes energy.
In addition, the lack of sleep and added stress of a newborn are enough to further increase your risk of weight gain.
I’ll go over each factor in more detail later on.
Does breastfeeding Cause You To keep weight on?
No, breastfeeding by itself does not cause your body to hold onto weight.
In contrast, breastfeeding actually burns calories – as energy is required to produce and let down your milk supply.
However, consuming too much of the wrong type of calories can cause you to maintain or even gain weight.
While many people argue that a calorie is just a calorie – you can’t deny the fact that certain foods will make you feel differently in terms of energy, hunger, and mood.
A calorie isn’t just a calorie.
For example, 200 calories from an avocado is not equal to 200 calories from a snickers bar.
Or a more extreme example, drinking 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (240 calories) will not have the same impact on your body as eating 240 calories of steamed vegetables.
Which one has more nutrients?
Which one will fill you up more?
If you are eating highly processed, nutrient poor foods while breastfeeding, you will find it difficult to lose weight.
This is why it is important to find a breastfeeding meal plan to learn what foods you should and should not be eating so that you can start shedding those extra pounds.
Can breastfeeding make you gain weight?
Breastfeeding alone does not make you gain weight.
Weight gain while nursing is caused by eating more calories than your body burns throughout the day.
If you eat 2500 calories, but your body only needs 1800 calories to survive and produce breast milk, those extra calories may be stored in the form of fat.
The problem is, breastfeeding can make you feel hungrier than usual, increasing your risk of overeating.
However, if you feel that you are gaining weight at an excessive rate, make sure to see your healthcare provider!
Why do I feel so hungry while breastfeeding?
The reason you feel so hungry while breastfeeding is because your body is undergoing several hormonal changes that can affect your appetite. Specifically, your body is secreting high levels of prolactin, cortisol, and grehlin, while suppressing the hormone adiponectin (which regulates metabolism and insulin sensitivity).
Let me explain in more detail.
1. Prolactin stimulates your appetite
Prolactin is a hormone that is secreted by your pituitary gland to allow for milk production. The name says it all. “Pro” (for) “lactin” (lactation).
What you may not know is that this hormone also stimulates your appetite.
So, it is quite common for you to experience increased hunger signals while you are breastfeeding.
But that’s not the only thing prolactin does. Studies have also shown that prolactin in breastfeeding women can suppress adiponectin levels.
2. The role of adiponectin
Adiponectin is a hormone secreted by your adipocytes (fat cells) and plays a role in glucose and lipid metabolism.
In other words, adiponectin is good for you.
Unfortunateltly, low adiponectin levels are associated with insulin resistance, obesity, and decreased metabolism- three things that can increase your hunger and cause increased fat accumulation.
3. You are burning calories
Another reason why you’re hungry while nursing is because breastfeeding burns calories!
The number of calories burned depends on a few factors like the number of times per day you are breastfeeding and the duration.
The more feeds you do, the more calories you will burn.
On average, you can expect to burn 300-500 calories per day while breastfeeding.
4. You are exhausted
Sleep deprivation is serious.
Aside from fatigue, a lack of sleep could lead to many hormonal imbalances that can affect your body weight.
In particular, ghrelin and leptin are two major hormones that are affected by sleep deprivation.
Ghrelin sends signals to your body letting you know you are hungry while leptin sends signals to your body letting you know you are full/satiated.
So as you can see, there are several factors that can impact your appetite while breastfeeding.
How can I avoid gaining weight while breastfeeding?
To avoid gaining weight while breastfeeding it is super important to know what you are putting into your body.
How many calories are you eating each day?
Where are these calories coming from?
You must be true to yourself and answer these questions honestly.
Remember as a nursing mom, you only require an additional 400 calories per day on average.
This is about the equivalent of one healthy postpartum snack.
In addition, how many liquid calories are you drinking? One simple thing you can do is eliminate all non-water beverages and replace them with water!
You were never eating for two during the pregnancy and shouldn’t eat for two while breastfeeding.
Why can’t I lose weight while breastfeeding?
Losing weight while breastfeeding can be difficult because breastfeeding (and being postpartum) can be a very stressful time for you.
As a result, high levels of stress + the stress of breastfeeding can paradoxically increase your risk of weight gain instead of weight loss.
Let me explain why.
When your stress level is high, your adrenal glands ramp up the production of cortisol – aka the stress hormone.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a good thing.
There is plenty of evidence to show that cortisol can negatively impact your ability to lose weight.
That’s because high levels of stress can:
- increase grhelin (the appetite stimulating hormone),
- increase food cravings, and
- increase your risk of obesity
Knowing this, it is important to be mindful of what you are eating, especially during periods of high stress.
Otherwise, here are two strategies you can use to try and manage stress levels after baby.
2 Simple Strategies For Reducing Cortisol
The absolute best way to improve your cortisol levels is to try and maximize your sleep quality.
Your body interprets poor sleep, as a “fight or flight” event. Thus, a sleep deprived state is the same as a constantly “stressed” state.
I know that you have a new baby, and improving the number of hours you sleep is close to impossible. Instead, try to focus on the quality of sleep you are getting.
To improve the quality of your sleep, you can try the following:
- Sleeping in a very dark room,
- Not using your cell phone in your bed,
- Keeping your room cool,
- Taking the TV out of your bedroom, and
- Taking a warm shower before bed.
The second thing I want to talk to you about is your activity level.
As a breastfeeding mom you should not be sitting down all day.
You must move in between feeds.
Exercise activity is important for so many things – especially recovery and for stress management!
The more you move, the better you will feel, and the more calories you will burn!
It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do.
Check out my postpartum fitness posts to learn more.
What is the fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding?
The fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding is to consume fewer calories than your body burns.
This is also known as a caloric deficit.
First, you must look at what you eat on a daily basis to get a rough idea of how many calories you are eating per day.
Look, I get it.
You just had a baby, and the last thing you want to do is start counting calories.
But it would be extremely helpful to actually document everything you eat in a typical day so that you can see both the quantity and the quality of the calories you are consuming.
The good news is- this is not difficult to do.
You can use an app such as myfitnesspal.com which makes this process pretty easy.
If that doesn’t work for you, check out this simple calculator I have created to help you determine how many calories you need to consume to lose weight while breastfeeding.
|((Body Weight (lbs) x 13) + 400) – 250|
Let me explain what it means:
- The first thing is to determine how much you weigh in pounds. I recommend checking first thing in the morning before breakfast and after you urinate/poop.
- Next, multiply your body weight by 12-14 to determine how many calories you need just to maintain your current body weight.
- Then, add about 400 calories to that number as you are breastfeeding.
- Finally, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to create a modest caloric deficit of about 250 calories.
This is your new recommended daily caloric intake.
By consuming this lower number of daily calories you should start to lose weight in about 2 weeks.
In addition, you want to make sure that the majority of your food is coming from nutrient-dense sources (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein).
Weight loss should be controlled and gradual, about 1 lb per week or 1% of your bodyweight.
Rapid weight loss can cause several issues and can increase the likelihood of regaining that weight.
If you fail to achieve any weight loss with this deficit, try decreasing your total calories by another 100-150 calories per day.
Make sure you stay consistent and remain patient.
To get more information, check out How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding.
Other Related Questions
Will I lose weight after I stop breastfeeding?
You may or may not lose weight after you stop breastfeeding.
It will largely depend on the the quantity and quality of the calories you are consuming.
With that being said, many women will lose weight after they stop breastfeeding as your body won’t need extra energy to keep up with the milk supply.
However, if you continue to overeat low quality calories, you will not lose weight.
How do you lose belly fat while breastfeeding?
Unfortunately there is no proven way to specifically reduce belly fat while breastfeeding.
For many women, the belly is the last place to lose weight from.
Final Words on Gaining Weight While Breastfeeding
So there you have it.
You now know why you are gaining weight while breastfeeding.
Are you ready to turn things around?
The beauty of life is you can change anything around, immediately.
You just need the courage and will power to do it.
So what say you?
Comment below and let me know what you think.
Related Articles on Nursing and Weight Gain
- An Easy Postpartum Diet for Busy Moms [What You Should Eat]
- How To Lose Weight While Breastfeeding [Everything You Need to Know]
- Postpartum Weight Loss Timeline [5 Tips To Get Your Body Back]
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness, expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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